Making The Decision About Native Advertising

March 12, 2015

Since the early days of digital content production, publishers have been challenged with balancing profitability and user experience. Traditional ads and sponsorships, including full-page ads and IAB banner positions, have fallen short on delivering on either side of the scale. So now publishers are looking to native advertising as a possible solution, albeit with mixed feelings.

As native advertising has made its way into more content platforms, such as social media and content publishing sites, both critics and advocates have voiced opinions on the new medium. Some expressed native advertising could break consumers’ trust in the brand, that it misleads consumers into reading the content which is actually an ad. Advocates for native advertising argue the format increases trust, giving brands a chance to do more than deliver a proposition statement, but offer helpful or entertaining content in the same vein as the native platform.

Love it or hate it, native advertising is making a solid impact in the publishing world. Some companies are already making significant inroads in native advertising development, and it won’t be long before your advertisers will expect you to have a policy on whether or not you embrace it.

What is Native Advertising?

Native advertising is a form of content marketing in which an advertiser promotes content in a way that mimics the visual elements and tone of the content platform. In this case, the advertiser can be the publisher, using their own editorial team, or it can be an outside brand posting content on another’s platform.

The difference between online display ads and native ads is that the latter are integrated within the flow of editorial content in a non-interruptive way. At first glance, the contextual advertising looks like content native to the site, hence being called a “native” ad.
Some common examples include:

Within the context of publishing, native ad content might be created by an advertiser and inserted into the publisher’s stream of content. Or the publisher’s editorial team could create content on behalf of brands so that it looks very similar to the publisher’s editorial content, but actually serves as an advertising platform for the brand. Buzzfeed’s sponsored content is an example of this.

How is it Different than Sponsored Content?

In many cases they’re interchangeable. However, an effective native ad has the goal of being shared. Native content is designed to be viral, to be shared beyond your loyal readers to a new audience. You want it to show up in the logical places for your ideal audience and then have that audience share it with their other communities until it taps new readers.

Why Does it Matter Now?

  1. People are making money off native advertising right now. It’s actively moving out of early adoption phase into being a recognized revenue strategy.
  2. There’s a push for standardizing metrics and values for digital ads, especially with regards to CPC, CPM or the “time spent” metric. Now is the time to settle where native advertising fits in the mix.
  3. Publishers are currently looking for the best ways to keep readers exploring more content. Some are adapting their sites for an uninterrupted stream of content, while others are offering more options for related content after every article to keep readers clicking through to the next thing. (Read Folio:’s article on the topicto see how three publishers – Time Inc., Popular Science and Slate – are tackling this issue.) Native advertising is a natural fit for this content platform evolution.

How do Publishers and Content Marketers Benefit from Native Ads

The benefits for publishers and content marketers is two-fold:

First, by posting original content on appropriate channels. This can gain you new brand exposure, and hopefully help build new audiences. The quality of your content can also help build the reader’s trust in your brand, and brings viewers one step closer to becoming a customer or subscriber.

Second, by allowing content to be posted on your own networks. This keeps content new and fresh on your site, and can potentially offer your loyal fans more of the information they were looking for. This tactic is only successful when the content quality is high. You should plan to work closely with the brand posting content so you’re sure the proposed material feeds your audience’s need.

What are the Results so far?

  1. According to research from IPG media lab and Sharethrough, native ads are much more likely to be shared than a standard banner ad (32% versus 19%)
  2. Consumers looked at native ads 53% more frequently than display ads
  3. Native ads registered 18% higher lift in purchase intent and 9% lift for brand affinity responses than banner ads
  4. 25% more consumers were measured to look at in-feed native ad placements than display ad units
  5. Buzzfeed anticipated around $120 million in native ad sales in 2014
  6. Yahoo’s native ads generated $106 million for the company in Q4
  7. Yahoo’s research reveals 70% of consumers prefer to learn about products through native ads
  8. Yahoo’s study of PC native ads showed consumers who viewed stream ads were 285% more likely to visit the advertiser’s website
Image from infographic by MDG Advertising
Image from infographic by MDG Advertising

How to use Native Advertising without “tricking” your audience about what’s editorial what’s advertising?

If you’re hosting content as a native ad, only allow content that fits a need for your audience. Allow content that if you could’ve, you would’ve written it yourself. Ideally, the content would be so good that your reader wouldn’t mind if it was written by you or by your advertiser.
Even with content that is akin to your own, be very specific and obvious about what content you’ve produced and what is “sponsored” or contributed by a “trusted partner.” If the advertising content must link out to the advertiser, warn readers that this will happen, to avoid confusion or surprise. It would be better, however, if you could host the advertiser’s content on your own site.

If you’re posting content on other sites, make sure you meet the same requirements you set for your advertisers: the content you provide should meet that audience’s need. Otherwise you won’t build the trust and positive reaction to your brand’s content. Try playing with different types of content – graphics, videos, articles – to see what resonates with different audiences. Then, watch your metrics to see the results. Use referral links to judge how your content is performing on other sites, and what gets readers to explore more or become your new audience.


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